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It’s Friday again, and we’ve got more videos for you. First up is a video we found by AndroidHive on using the Google Places API on Android. A nice quick intro that walks you through the basic steps.

Chris Broadfoot and Paul Saxman hung out Thursday in Sydney talking about a few of their favorite maps and why they like them. Viewers on Google Developers Live also contributed their favorites.

If you haven’t checked out Google Developers Live for awhile, it’s a great way to get live and recorded content about all sorts of Google APIs and developer platforms. Here’s the direct link to the Google Maps Developer events and videos page.

Posted by Mano Marks, Maps Developer Relations Team


This guest post is by Dr. Steffen Fritz, and Ian McCallum, researchers for the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, an international research organization that conducts policy-oriented research on global problems.  

During the last decade, scientists have created several global land cover datasets. Comparison studies show that there are large spatial discrepancies between these products. One reason for these discrepancies is the lack of sufficient ground data for developing and validating these products. To address this issue, we have created the crowdsourcing tool, a web application using the Google Earth API and Google Earth plug-in. We chose Google Earth largely because of Google Earth’s navigation functionalities, including the ability to adjust the globe’s tilt and see the structure of the Earth’s surface, a significant advantage in recognizing land cover.

In a nutshell, volunteers can:
  • view disagreement maps derived from three recent global land cover datasets
  • select among available high resolution images as well as upload or view geo-tagged pictures (e.g., and
  • determine which land cover type is found on the ground and decide which dataset is correct.
We record the results in a spatial database. adds data to Google Earth in many ways. A MapServer provides raster data that are overlaid above Google Earth imagery using  KmlGroundOverlays. Vector data such as current pixel outlines are generated with JavaScript by creating and adding place marks with custom styles. Point data such as members or confluence points are loaded asynchronously as KML and simply added to Google Earth.

One of the main challenges we faced developing was the rapid handling of the large global datasets we wanted to visualize. To solve this, we chose the open source PostgreSQL relational database with a PostGIS extension to allow for spatial queries. The database stores the user details, user validations and the pixel polygons of the three global land cover data sets. Although the global land cover maps can be viewed as a semi-transparent layer on Google Earth, the bounding coordinates of each pixel are stored in the database. This representation was chosen in order to quickly retrieve the outlines of the pixels and their attributes at any given point on the Earth’s land surface.

In addition to the Google Earth API, uses the following technologies: Apache2 web server, PHP 5.2, MapServer, GeoServer, GDAL/OGR, PostgreSQL+PostGIS, JavaScript/AJAX.

We have recently launched a competition to raise awareness of the tool and to encourage community involvement in environmental monitoring.

Earlier this month we announced the Google Places API Developer Challenge, a 10-week application development event designed to spur the creation of applications focused on civic needs. We’re excited to see how you can find solutions to critical needs in areas such as transit, community engagement, education and city management by combining publicly available data sets with the power of the Google Places API. The developers of the winning applications will receive a VIP experience at Google I/O 2013.

Application submissions begin now and will continue through the end of October. The winning applications will be announced in mid-December. The judging and selection of applications will be performed by a distinguished panel of luminaries with backgrounds in geospatial technology, application development, and civic innovation, and they include:
  • Bill Oates, Chief Information Officer, City of Boston
  • John Tolva, Chief Technology Officer, City of Chicago
  • Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer, City of San Francisco
  • Adel W. Ebeid, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Philadelphia
  • Mark Headd, Chief Data Officer, City of Philadelphia, and former Government Relations Director at Code for America
  • John Geraci, Founder of and
  • Adam DuVander, Executive Editor at ProgrammableWeb
  • Jeanne M. Holm, Chief Knowledge Architect at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Chair of NASA’s Knowledge Management Team
  • Laurenellen McCann, National Policy Manager, Sunlight Foundation
  • Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist for Google
  • Paul Rademacher, Creator of the First Google Maps API Mashup and Creator of Stratocam
  • Rob Gray, Global Marketing Manager, Google Earth and Maps

To hear more about the types of applications that cities need, check out the video above featuring Ed Parsons (Google’s Geospatial Technologist), Jay Nath, (CIO of San Francisco), John Tolva, (CTO of Chicago), Rachel Sterne (Chief Digital Officer of NYC), and Andrew Collinge (Intelligence Office of the Greater London Authority).

Developers have always impressed us with their innovative uses of the Google Places API, and we're excited to see that energy focused on helping our communities. If you have any questions or concerns about the API, please join our developer community on Stack Overflow. We look forward to seeing all of your great ideas and meeting the winners at Google I/O.

Our developers often ask about opportunities for monetizing sites that use the Google Maps API. For years we've provided a way to add AdSense to their maps via the Maps Ad Unit, and today we're adding two new extensions to that feature.  This means more choices for ads with your maps and an improved experience for your users.

The first extension adds six new ad formats that request a link unit rather than direct ads. Link units display a list of topics that are relevant to the content of your page.  When a user clicks a topic, Google will show a page of related ads. Since link units can take up less screen space than direct ads they’re a great option to consider when you have limited space.

The second new extension allows you to customize the design of the Maps Ad Unit. We now support custom colors for the ad unit's background, border, link, text and URL. This enables you to set a color scheme that complements the design of your site.

You can now test-drive these new features with the demo below. While the demo illustrates only a subset of the supported formats with a limited number of predefined styles and on-map positioning, you have much more creative freedom over your own ad unit.

When you are ready to try this on your own site please see the developer documentation and Maps API reference for instructions on how to use these features with your ad unit.

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It’s Friday again, and we’re having a ball. Following in Curiosity’s wheel tracks, +Paul Saxman and +Brendan Kenny hosted Mars Mania and the Google Maps APIs! Working with imagery from the Mars rover and the Custom Street View Panorama API, they showed panoramas of Mars and talked about how you could too. Take a look:

Last time I had so much to mention I didn’t have space for this, but I think it deserves another look. On the 30th of July, +Marcelo Camelo and +Chris Broadfoot hosted a Q&A on getting started with the Google Places API. Lots of good stuff there, check it out:

And lastly, and because you know I love the maps of imaginary worlds from video games, I found the map of Tyria, the Guild Wars 2 world. On it, you can find crafting materials, trainers, ranger pets, and other points of interest.

Posted by Mano Marks, Maps Developer Relations Team

Map of the Week: Volkswagen Street View Quest
Why we like it: We really like this creative approach to interacting with Street View imagery. This Google Maps API implementation shows us that are still many different ways to take advantage of the imagery offered in the API.

When I was kid, my friends and I would play a game called “Punch Beetle” (also known as punch bug, punch dub, piggy punch, slug bug, or beetle bug depending on where you’re from). In brief: the object of the game is to be the first one to spot a Volkwagen Beetle and call out "Punch buggy!" or "Slug bug!" while punching your opponent in the arm.

In many ways, this game is a real world viral meme that became popular without the Internet. Using Google Street View imagery via the Google Maps API, Volkswagen found a way to translate this old tradition into an online game that you can play anywhere in the world without actually having to be in the car or punching anyone. Head over to the Street Quest site for a cool YouTube trailer and to start playing (note: you'll need a facebook login to participate in the challenge).

In VW Street View Quest, players search Google Street View imagery to find and tag any VW vehicles (not just bugs) that have been picked up by our cameras. The person who tags the most vehicles wins the challenge. There are also bonus challenges where users are asked to find the location of a particular car using only a few degrees of the Street View panorama as a clue.

Currently, prizes are only available to residents of South Africa, but the rest of the world can still explore the site and follow along. The top four users who find the most VW vehicles in Google Street View get to compete against each in real life to find the most VWs in Cape Town, South Africa. Overall, this concept is a fun way to embrace the sub-cultures and memes that have sprung up around the VW brand and share them with the rest of the world.

Map of the Week: runtastic PRO
Why we like it: runtastic is using Google Earth to show a user 3D Earth View video playback of every run or GPS activity they track with runtastic PRO for Android. In addition to retracing a route, runtastic displays the time, pace, elevation, places of interest, and more. Users can also choose to review their activities with three zoom levels and three playback speeds.
[Editor’s note: For this week’s “Map of the Week” post, we’ve asked Stephan Brunner, Head of Android Development at runtastic, to write a guest blog post about what his team used to create runtastic Earth View - Paul Saxman]
Whether you’re running your first half marathon, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, or hiking in Nepal, runtastic’s Google Earth playback feature allows you to hold on to the memory and imagery of your activity.
How do we make this happen? The runtastic app captures GPS coordinate data and transforms it into a KML file, and then starts the Google Earth app with an Android Intent, passing a reference to the file in the Intent URI. The Google Earth app loads the track and takes it from there.

The <gx:Track> and <gx:Tour> extension to KML are the perfect tools for making the new 3D experience happen. The <gx:Track> element contains the entire GPS data recorded by the runtastic app, and <gx:Tour> defines the camera animations, overhead view and angle. The Google Earth app matches the elements of both lists using the time-span information from each list element. The result is a smooth animation of the track being painted based on the data from a run, which makes the user feel like they’re flying along it!

runtastic PRO Google Earth Tour on Galaxy Nexusruntastic PRO Google Earth Tour on Nexus 7
With this great new 3D Earth View, we think that there is no reason to stay on the couch. Get out there and record some amazing activities!

Posted by Paul Saxman, Google Maps API Developer Relations Team

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How would you make your community or local government run better? In our first Google Places API Developer Challenge, we’re inviting developers around the world to make something that improves their communities or governments by using the Google Places API and its database of places and tools. The developers of the winning applications will receive a VIP experience at Google I/O 2013.

You might create an app or site that solves health problems, understands crime patterns, or improves commerce. You can use any platform as long as you build with the Google Places API and it benefits your community or government. We’re looking for your best and most innovative ideas.

Built on the comprehensive global database of more than 95 million places that powers Google Maps, the Google Places API enables you to search for information about a variety of nearby places such as establishments, geographic locations and prominent points of interest. You can re-rank place results based on user check-ins, and create new places specific to your app.

To help you develop your ideas and build better apps, we’ve been working with local government officials in Austin, Boston, Chicago, London, Louisville, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, and Seattle along with the White House to surface a wide variety of data sets for your apps. You can find these data sets and more on the Google Places API Challenge site at and hear more about what cities have to say about the challenge here. You can also follow updates and hangouts about the challenge on +Google Maps API.

The submission window opens on August 15th and closes on October 31st, 2012.

We look forward to seeing what can happen when your imagination and the Google Places API come together!